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Fig jam

The frost and then the yard man’s weed wacker have hindered my fig production. Honestly, it reduced the number of fig bushes from six to two and those two are limping along. So, I tried to barter honey from my summer robbing for figs. I asked my fellow local gardeners through Facebook but I missed the summer figs by a few weeks. The I walked into Publix and they had black Mission and brown Turkey figs BOGO. Wining!

Fresh figs

So I stemmed and quartered thirty figs, I added two cups of white sugar and one whole vanilla bean, split. I put it all in a heavy LIDDED Le Creuset Dutch oven and cooked it on very low heat until all the figs were soft and brown. I used a pastry knife to chop any remaining pieces into smaller chunks. I removed the vanilla bean and scraped out the bean paste, returning it to the slow boiled jam.

Cooked vanilla fig jamThe outcome was six half pint jars and a small quarter pint remnant that goes into the fridge for me to eat now on toast or with cheddar cheese on crackers.

Fig jam in jars

 

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Thanksgiving table

Back in the heat of the summer, I arranged to foster a turkey at Laughing Chicken Farms. Robin Popp is at the Alachua County farmers’ market on Saturdays with chickens and eggs. I made my down payment for my Thanksgiving feast. Two nights before Thanksgiving, I drove out to Trenton. The Laughing Chicken Farms is straight west about 13 miles. On Tuesday night it was storming and a squall was coming off the Gulf into Cedar Key. There were tornado warnings. I drove in my little sports cars down limerock roads in pitch darkness to get our turkey.

It was a very good turkey. Freshly slaughtered the night before. 22 lbs. We put it in a brine with apple cider vinegar, garlic, onions, fresh sage, clementine orange rinds, pepper and a stick of cinnamon. I wanted to set a table with as much fresh, local or nearby foods. I bought my yams at the farmers’ market along with peppers. I pulled my own carrots from my garden about an hour before we sat down for dinner. Garlic honey carrots

We made sweet potato biscuits with the yams and flour freshly milled from grains I bought from Breadbeckers in Woodstock, GA. I use honey collected last spring from my own hives. I use pure Vermont maple syrup I recanned from a gallon I was gifted by a patient last year. I ordered cheeses from Nature’s Harmony Farms in Georgia and their Georgia Gold (cheddar) was excellent. The Fortsonia was also yummy, like a hard Swiss. I will order from them again. My niece brought a fresh bottle of Richland Rum, distilled from sorghum grown in Richland, Georgia.

Richland RumEverything set upon the table was made from scratch (except the pie crusts…we cheated on the crusts). I believe in slow food, scratch made food, simplified and real. Real butter. Real cheese. Wheat flour. Farm eggs. Hand made. Home made. Yes, it takes more time. Yes, it cost more money. But….it’s real. It’s fresh. It’s live (or very recently was alive). I believe that these things matter.

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Tuesday’s fare

Beans picked fresh from the garden, rinsed and chopped, cooked but still crunchy. I served them with a vinaigrette dressing of avocado oil, peach balsamic vinegar, Dijon mustard and crushed garlic. I grated a boiled egg and added cracked pepper and that was the salad course.

Beans with egg

The dinner was a large Vidalia onion sauteed in olive oil and butter until translucent and then caramelized with a teaspoon of sugar. Add four cups of beef broth and four cloves of crushed garlic. I served it with a thick slice of sourdough bread and Emmenthaler Swiss cheese melted under the broiler.

French onion soupI scored some chocolate rugalah at Fresh Market for a perfect meal.

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The Soup

I wanted Italian Wedding soup, the kind with the tiny little meatballs, but I am so picky about pre-prepared food items with ground “beef”. I suspect what is labeled as “beef” is really various cow parts. So, I found an easy recipe on-line for an Italian Wedding soup [here] and made a quick run to The Fresh Market at lunch. I made a slight substitution of half the pork for lamb. When we go home, The Younger Son helped me hand roll all the meatballs (2 lbs of meat). I doubled the recipe so we’d have meatballs in the freezer to make the soup again if it was a hit. It was a hit. I think I’ll finely julienne the curly endive the next go around.

Italian Wedding Soup

w/ a side of Butter dipsAfter dinner, we cut the Halloween cake I made. I got the recipe from Williams & Sonoma in honor of National Chocolate Day, which was Monday. Yum.

Halloween Cake

Decadence

 

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Returning home

Being away from home is hard because home is so truly awesome and amazing. I planned it that way. I planned it to be my little castle; a place I can retreat to, pull up the drawbridge and unwind, relax and be at ease. But, sometimes one must leave town and last week I truly felt the need to bolt like a jack rabbit. I wanted to run away. I NEEDED to run away. I had a “boutique” runaway planned: hotel reservations, giant home decor and antique festival, a populated Google map with foodie sites bookmarked and cash to spend. This was a no credit weekend. All prepaid.

But, after a couple of days and two no so comfortable nights in a hotel with mediocre pillows and no late night access to chocolate and peanut butter, I elected to go home. Home is awesome. Home is my refuge and my happy place.

I came home with a rented Chevy Suburban chock-a-block full of stuff I bought, plus a new coat and “market bag”. I came home to a garden abundant with beans and lettuces. I had purchased locavore vinegars and oils and killer Ikea salad bowls. After a run to The Fresh Market and the aquisition of shallots, an aged cheese and ciabatta rolls…..(along with Hollandaise sauce, sweet sausage and puff pastry intended for breakfast tomorrow) I spent less money than had I eaten the next 2 meals in Atlanta. Dinner was two hours out of the soil, uber fresh, very healthy and all cleaned up. Plus I ate it in my comfy clothes while watching a DVR episode of Elementary.

Garden picks for today

Cold bean saladThe beans were blanched and then chilled. A shallot was thin sliced and sauteed with walnut oil, capers and fresh cracked pepper. The salad was finished with fig balsamic.

Bibb saladThe salad was one head of butter cos bibb lettuce with a slice boiled egg and shaved aged cheese with a simple dressing of avocado oil, peach balsamic, dijon, mashed garlic and fresh cracked pepper.

Rum CocktailAdd a cocktail (or two): 1 3/4 oz rum, 3/4 oz lemon juice, 1/4 oz grenadine in a shaker filled with ice cubes. Serve in a cocktail glass.

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Bacon Jam

With a day off work, I have a day to work around home. It’s 7:30 and I sit at my kitchen counter watching the sun rise and stream into the windows along the east side of the house. It is how I imagined the sun in the early morning hours although the reflection on the carnival colored glass mosaic tiles behind my range hood is far more stunning then I could have predicted.

With a fresh pot of coffee brewed, I assembled the ingredients for Bacon Jam. I first saw the recipe on Not Quite Nigella’s website. I have modified it for my own tastes and to include honey from Biddan Ridge’s hives. I need to include this on the menu for the Thanksgiving weekend gathering.

Bacon Jam

Bacon Jam

 1 lb bacon, chopped

6-8 cloves of garlic, chopped

1 large sweet onion

1 c strong black coffee

¼ apple cider vinegar

¼ c maple syrup

3 Tbsp Biddan Ridge Honey (or brown sugar)

1 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder

¼ tsp red pepper flakes

1 c water

Put all ingredients in a deep skillet EXCEPT the water and slow cook, uncovered for HOURS. After the first hour, add ¼ c water. Repeat each hour until it’s cooked down into a dark, rust brown concoction.

Let cool for 1 hour. Transfer to a food processor and pulse until desired spreadable consistency.

Makes 1 pint jar. Keep refrigerated. Spread on biscuits, crackers with cheese, burgers, as a base sauce for pizzas. Be creative.

 

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Sunday dinner

There is a steep learning curve to growing your own food when you don’t come a gardening or farming family. I wanted to grow some of my own food. I’ve grown herbs for years; they are some of the most expensive per ounce groceries except for maybe saffron and too often they go to waste. The store packages of herds are more than can be used in a single dish. They usually get slimy and get exiled to the compost pile. So, I grow my own. I designed a special walkway for the growing of herbs. I wanted that path between my car and entry to be inspiration for dinner.

Herb garden walkway

I made a wonderful dinner. I usually start with an ingredient and build out from there. Tonight it was a butternut squash bought for $1 at the farmers’ market. I roasted and then cubed it, setting it aside for when needed. I browned some bacon and once crisp, removed it and sauteed a purple onion in the bacon drippings, adding fresh cracked pepper. Then I added julienned yellow peppers I grew in the garden. I had seeded and chopped and froze the peppers, storing them in a quart sized mason jar for easy use.

Peppers in a jar

I added crushed garlic, sun-dried tomatoes, chopped sage picked from the herb garden, black walnuts and the cubed butternut squash.

100_8948I put it over pasta, sprinkled with the crispy bacon and added finely grated Romano cheese. A nice glass of Riesling and a slice of sourdough toast and I am in heaven.

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Pear conserve

name tags

I planted three pear trees back in the winter. All I really want are the sand pears which some people also call Asian pears or pineapple pears. Sand is the best adjective, because they are gritty and coarse. I lost all the blossoms to freeze so had to buy pears at the farmers market. I bought 2 baskets last week and two more this week.

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Peel and core the pears and add a whole, fresh pineapple putting all of it through the food processor. Add 4 cups of cane sugar.

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Bring it up to a rolling boil, add cinnamon and nutmeg if you like, or a whole vanilla bean, and continue to boil for 20 minutes, stirring constantly. The pears and pineapples will become glassy and glossy. Can it all like jam following the standard water bath canning instructions.

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I recently read an article on Grist about women farmers and ranchers. I’m not a farmer but I want to grow some of my own food. I am rational, though. I don’t have the time to devote to a large kitchen garden. So, I pared down my goals and focused on a few things. I want to grow tomatoes to can. I am not a fresh tomato eater as much as I am a cook that uses lots of tomatoes, mostly chopped tomatoes. So, I planted tomatoes and basil and peppers. My larger idea of food production is to grow fruit on trees to make jams, pies and cobblers. As fresh as can be from ground to plate (or freezer or water bath).

TomatoAnd so this is a bit of what I have planted: three pears, six pecans, a loquat, six arbequina olives, a Meyer lemon, a peach, eight blueberry bushes and a tended, cultivated, replanted swath of wild blackberry brambles. The blackberry canes grow wild all over my yard and I mow them over. They also grow inside my landscaped beds. So, I dig them up and replant them into a band in the southern side acre. One day, the other 23 lots in Hawk’s Ridge will be built out and the wild,  chest-high blackberry brambles will have gone the way of pine bark mulch and concrete pavers, but I will have a stripe large enough to satisfy my yearly jam making and pie baking.

Blackberry brambleI also grow herbs for cooking: rosemary, oregano, thyme, garlic chives, sage, leeks and dill. The dill is currently serving at food source for the swallowtail butterfly caterpillars. I bought two large seed packets of flower dill just for this purpose. I will plant it in the late summer out in the rear acre far away from my herb garden for the kitchen.

Flowering dillCaterpillarLastly, I have bees. And honey that tastes of wildflowers and berries. The bees have plenty to forage with the lilies, asters, irises, cosmos, zinnias, blackberries, wildflowers and blooming grasses.

Zinnias with blackberriesIt hasn’t been a year. I can envision the house and yard in three years, five, 10. The trees lush and grown, the garden mature, the beds packed with perennials leaving me to weed and transplant.

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Inspiration

I love beauty. Beauty inspires me. Seeking beauty, chasing beauty, making something beautiful takes courage, demands it, it makes your heart fierce. I collect beautiful things, images; I tuck them away like tinker toys buried in a coffee can in the back yard, a time capsule to which I can return for inspiration. I savor them, even when I cannot dig them back up. I know they’re out there, hidden, safe and protected. Here are some of my old and new discoveries.

La Casa Azul: The Blue House, the house in blue, the most stunning display of simple, pragmatic beauty and the absolute impetus for Biddan Ridge. These pictures of Geninne & Manolo’s home in Mexico was my muse.

Verana: A small, secluded hotel in Mexico to which I have never been but dream of and will make a destination. I promise. Plus the music is luscious.

Garden & Gun magazine: When it arrives every other month, I savor it. I hoard it. I am a devourer of books and serialized TV shows but this magazine I savor, taking weeks to read fully. In it I discover things like Richland Rum. I go searching for the music of The Alabama Shakes and am mesmerized by a black girl singing and playing the guitar with such fierceness. And then there is the perfect biscuit.

Birthday Daisy